Cover Story: A Whole New Playbook
Matthew Quick talks about the Hollywood publicity machine, straddling the line between adult and YA, waiting for limos with Jennifer Aniston, and keeping one's head with a burgeoning fanbase.
BB: You’ve done three novels that are being sold as YA, though Leonard Peacock has very mature and timely themes, and you are returning to adult for your next books. Is there a big difference between writing for “adults” vs. writing for “young adults?”
MQ: When my agent [Doug Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic] first asked me to write YA, he said, “You were a high school English teacher, you know teenagers, you should give it a go.” I had a lot of lingering MFA snobbery. My response, and I’m not proud of this, was, “I don’t write genre fiction.” To think that I had the balls as an unpublished novelist to tell someone what I was. A lot of young writers have very preconceived ideas about how the publishing world works, and those preconceived ideas put you at a disadvantage. My agent took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m not asking you to write anything you wouldn’t normally write, but write it from the point of view of a teenager. I remember you saying, Catcher in the Rye is YA.” I remember thinking, “Wow, I could be J.D. Salinger.” [Laughs.] … Having worked at this for six years, I feel as though my mind-frame has really changed radically about all of that. When I sit down to write, I don’t think about how it’s going to be perceived or received. I try to tell the best story I can tell. … I left all that snobbery at the door a long time ago.
BB: Are there different expectations of a YA author in terms of sales?
MQ: The type of YA I write is called “realistic YA.” Basically it’s not wizards or vampires or anything fantastical. Realistic YA does not sell as well as your Twilight series or your Harry Potters or your Beautiful Creatures. It’s good and bad. The bad is that you don’t make as much money — it’s not as easy to get those books out there and they don’t have the ad budgets those big fantasy books get. The good part is that I have a little bit more freedom to take risks. What my publisher hopes to do is build my career by getting my books into classrooms. In this country, teachers and librarians have a huge role in determining the success of YA. The hope is that I will win awards. Boy21 [was] a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for YA. That’s a huge win for my publisher. Sometimes it’s frustrating when people say, “You must have gone to YA to chase the money.” The money I made from YA is probably not even 10 percent of the money I’ve made over the years. The money has come from Silver Linings and Hollywood. YA, I love doing it, but I couldn’t support myself on it. Not a big money maker yet. I do it because I love the books that I’m writing.